14 Jun Impressions of the land of milk, honey, and biotechnology
Both Israel and the Israeli Life Science Industry are amazing to see: the sense of energy, creativity, and urgency are contagious and admirable. It was also an important time to be in Israel as the month of May celebrated the 60th anniversary of the formation of the state of Israel.
As part of an Illinois delegation that went over to Israel to attend the annual BIOMED conference (biotechnology and medical devices) hosted by the Israeli Life Science Industry Association that included representatives from Baxter International, the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Illinois Science + Technology Park (the author of this article), the University of Illinois, the America- Israel Chamber of Commerce – Chicago, the local office of Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, a select group of Illinois law firms, and a few Illinois biotech companies including BioSante (a Gold Sponsor of the event due to the fact that a number of its key investors are from Israeli). We also visited and met with a number of key Israeli research institutions and Israeli organizations.
To be sure, Illinois was not the only state present at the event: other states included Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania (including a delegation from Pittsburgh). Ohio, in fact, had three different exhibit areas including one that focused on Akron; the Akron folks are so aggressively pursuing Israeli companies that they have funded and set up an incubator in Israel to develop new Israeli companies. Maryland had the largest contingent, led by its Governor, and representatives from the Maryland Israel Development Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and several law firms and biotech companies. Maryland announced that it is setting up a small early-stage venture capital fund ($3 million to $5 million) for Israeli companies that come to Maryland to set up shop. This follows a strategy pursued by nearby Virginia, which had initiated something similar last year.
Because of this large U.S. presence, the Israel-American Chamber of Commerce hosted a dinner at the U.S. Ambassador-to-Israel residence, which included not only the state delegations and local Israeli organizations, and the U.S. Ambassador, but also Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyu, the former Prime Minister of Israel and current chairman of the Likud Party. Netanyahu was the first Israeli Prime Minister (the 9th) to be born in Israel; although his grandparents are Lithuanian, they moved to Minnesota and immigrated to Israel afterward. Netanyahu spent part of his childhood (starting from age 14) in the U.S. in Pennsylvania. He later attended MIT, where he obtained both B.S. and M.S. degrees.
According to Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), after graduate school, he worked at the Boston Consulting Group in Boston. He returned to Israel, but in the 1980s came back to the U.S. as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and then became Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He became the Israeli Prime Minister in 1996 until 1999. As Prime Minister, he was known, according to Wikipedia, for his policy of three “no’s”:
• No withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
• No discussion of the case of Jerusalem.
• No prenegotiations under any preconditions.
Netanyahu, in general, has not been supportive of the formation of a Palestinian state, although has been willing to consider the idea.
Netanyahu spoke to us for well over 30 minutes without notes but in a very articulate manner. While he was clearly an Americanophile, he warned the U.S. that it is falling behind in its competitive standing, and that it will be surpassed by China and India.
The BIOMED conference was unique in that concurrently two other meetings were being held in adjacent sites: the 2nd International Stem Cell Conference and the 11th Israeli Symposium on Computer-aided Surgery, Medical Robotics, and Medical Imagery.
Well over 5,000 people attended all three events. Besides the U.S. contingent, groups from France (Alsace, Lyon, Paris and Nantes regions), and Wales (UK) were also present. There were also a number of large life science companies evident such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, Genzyme, Dr. Reddy’s Labs (India), and AstraZeneca.
Attracting all of these companies were the unique array of diverse life science technologies emanating from more than 900 companies. Although this is a large number of life science companies, the reality is that at least 800 of them have less than 5-10 people, and like the Midwest, they, too, have problems raising early-stage money. There seems to be far more stem cell activity going on in Israel than the U.S., as the Israeli’s are not limited to just adult stem cell work by their government.
In addition to attending the conference, the Illinois team visited Haifa, the largest Israeli city in the northern part of the country (about an hour north of Tel Aviz), and met with the Mayor of Haifa, the technology transfer and biomedical engineering groups of Technion (the Israeli Institute of Technology, otherwise known as the MIT of Israel), the Rambam Hospital (the nearby teaching hospital affiliated with Technion), the Haifa Economic Development Zone and Technology Park called Matam, and the grounds of the new Haifa Life Science Park. A number of major American software and Internet companies have offices there, as does Intel. According to Technion, its graduates comprise the majority of Israeli-educated scientists and engineers constituting over 70 percent of the country’s founders and managers of high-tech industries, and has generated the greatest concentration of high-tech companies outside of Silicon Valley. Technion professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The Illinois group also visited the famed Weizmann Institute of Sciencein Rehovot, Israel, about 30 minutes south of Tel Aviz. This institution has generated a number of blockbuster drugs for diseases such as cancer and multiple schlerosis and is akin to Caltech and has a reputation as the “Harvard of Israel.” The campus very much has a Palo Alto/Stanford University feel to it. There is also a world famous children’s science park at the heart of the campus with large-scale experiments for children to learn key scientific concepts.
The Illinois group also held an “Illinois Night” presenting highlights of Illinois Life Science Industry to Israeli life science entrepreneurs. The group also met with MATIMOP, the Israeli Industry Center for R&D that coordinates industrial R&D cooperation between Israel and the international high-tech community and is part of the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel, a part of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This meeting was to renew Illinois historical contact and relationship with this group and plan potential new activities together for the future. Additional meetings were also held with the Israel Life Science Industry Organization, and with TEVA Pharmaceuticals, the largest Israeli Pharma company and one of the top 20 pharma companies in the world.
Illinois has been closely with Israel over the last few years not only in the field of Life Sciences but also in the area of Homeland Security, an area with which Israel has far more experience than the U.S.
All of the Illinois group felt exhilarated by the visit and plans are being reviewed to hold an Israeli-Illinois life science event before the end of 2008, and perhaps again before the BIO annual International Conference in 2010 when it comes back to Chicago. This exhilaration was in part due to personally witnessing some amazing technology coming from a country of less than seven million people and smaller than the state of New Jersey.
See you soon!
Previous articles by Michael Rosen
• Michael Rosen: Global medical device market outperforms drug market growth
• Michael Rosen: Foreign biotech companies on U.S. buying spree
• Michael Rosen: Globalization radically changing pharma, airlines, cars
• Michael Rosen: Biotech financing remains strong
• Michael Rosen: Canadian biotech: a profile of our northern neighbor
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission. The article is not meant to be a stock recommendation.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.
WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.